For independent hip-hop artists, one of the most important things you need to do is learn how to plan a tour. Launching a successful tour depends on thorough preparation and maximising every opportunity you have to leave a mark on whatever city you’re in.
Portland producer and rapper TOPE, who is currently residing in Los Angeles, has toured with artists including Abstract Rude, Mystik Journeymen, Gift Of Gab of Blackalicious and more plus recently headlined his first 20+ city tour this summer.
Here are TOPE’s top 10 tips for independent artists on planning a tour.
1. Choose your tour crew wisely
One of the most important things before you leave for tour is determining who is coming with you. From openers, to drivers, to photographers or whoever you chose to include – energy is important. Just like you can’t be roommates with every one of your friends, you also can’t tour with every one of your friends.
One thing to remember is you’re not only going to be performing with the same people for weeks or months but you’re also living with them. From the van, to the hotels, to the shows – if you don’t get along with your crew it’s going to make for a very long tour.
Also keep in mind that these are the people that are representing your brand. If your crew is drunk and obnoxious that’s going to reflect on you, the same way it will if they kill the show and leave everyone impressed.
2. Prepare your merchandise
Before you leave for tour you have to make sure your merch game is on point. A lot of times for artists starting out, not every show has a guarantee of money so merchandise is a big supplement to your income while touring. Also plan to bring items you can afford to give away for free.
Even if people can’t spend money on your product giving them a sticker or business card can create future revenue. Also having a space for people to sign up for a mailing list is a great way for people to keep in touch with you and your music moving forward.
It’s 2016 and music is accessible everywhere so have to figure out what works best for you. That might mean giving away free music and charging for merch or charging for music and giving away limited edition merch. Remember, people can’t download a hat or shirt.
3. Practice makes perfect
Give the people something that they want. Practice, practice, practice your set. Think of innovate ways to include the city that you’re in into your live show. Engage with your audience. Whatever you do, DO NOT RAP OVER YOUR SONGS or LIP SYNC.
That sounds like an obvious rule but you would be surprised by how many acts I’ve come across on tour that have no clue.
4. Planning your route
Make sure your routing makes sense. Anything over 4 or 5 hour drive is going to take a toll on your body and is something you should prepare for the day before. 10+ drives are hell, there’s no way around that.
For up and coming artists sometimes you have to do what you have to do but don’t kill yourself trying to get from city to city. Take the time to enjoy your experience no matter if the city is big or small.
The more time you can spend in a city the more likely the show is going to be a success and you’ll able to connect with people.
5. Health check
First off before you even leave for tour make sure you are healthy enough, psychically and mentally, to complete this period of time away from your comfort zone and on the road.
Something I never talked about publicly was while working on Broke Boy Syndrome in 2014 I was diagnosed with Gastritis and developed an ulcer from not paying attention to my health.
That forced me to change my diet drastically and would continue to bother me for over a year, affecting my weight, appetite, and more. Going on tour with a ulcer or any medical condition can create a huge challenge.
Eating healthy, drinking water, and watching how much alcohol you consume (if you do drink) can really improve your tour experience. Late nights, long drives, fast food, drugs, they all take a toll on your body and something you have to gauge on tour.
6. Connect with the local media
Make sure you or your team is reaching out to local papers, colleges, radio station in the area of your shows before you leave for tour. Set up interviews, articles, and in-stores if possible to help promote the show.
A lot of time smaller cities are thirsty for new acts to come to town but they just don’t know they are coming. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them first and submit your event. Google, google, google. Find the writers that relevant to your genre and offer the guest list spot.
Watch your back. From the van, to the merch table, to the hotel, make sure you and your crew are tight and can look out for each other. Everybody is going to have an off night eventually but if your camp has your back that makes for less errors.
Getting things stolen or leaving things in the hotel on tour is the worst feeling. For artists, be careful who you tell where you’re staying at. Set ups can come in any shape or form, especially when you’re in a city you’re unfamiliar with.
I may sound a little paranoid but you never know, the last you want to do is wake up in your hotel room with all money gone.
8. Go hard
You’re going to have great shows and bad shows, it’s all a part of tour. Play your best set every time because no matter what someone out there is watching, even if its the bartender and the waitress. It might sound cliche, but play every set like it’s a sold out show.
Take your ass to bed. Get sleep whenever you can. It’s going to be tough to get a normal 6-8 hours but anything helps. Take advantage of your days off and don’t party, you’ll feel it later.
10. Enjoy the moment
Have fun, take your time. Tour might seem really stressful while you’re in the thick of it but looking back, guaranteed it will be some of the best memories you’ll ever have.
Take care of your people and let them know you couldn’t do it with out them. Don’t be the star of the show. Touring is a team effort where everybody plays an important role.